Friday, November 22, 2013

Canticle Collects from Gesangbüchlein (Bonn, 1561)

I HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE recently of looking through the expanded edition of the Gesangüchlein Geistlicher Psalmen, Hymnen, lieder und gebet . . . (Bonn, 1561). It attracts attention from the very start. Near the front of the book is a quite full Kalendar of saints and festivals, so much so that one is at first made to wonder whether or not it is a Lutheran book. Lutheran hymnals and cantionals of the period tend to be a little sparing on the Kalendar, usually preferring to keep only festivals suggested by Luther, et al., or found only in Scripture, or not too much associated with any local cult or relic. The purpose here seems to have been to have a commemoration or festival for each day of the year. The Kalendars months have phrases to the left of the arabic numerals which are meant to be used a mnemonic device. Following the months are tables and more mnemonic verses for the days and seasons, Embertides, etc. There are also nice illustrations of a dominical letter wheel and a golden number wheel.

Toward the back of the Bonn hymnal, after a very extensive collection of versified psalms set to familiar, largely Lutheran, melodies, we find the Bonn Kirchen-Ordnung, or church order, including, among other things, an Exhortation to Communion, as we often find in church orders of this earlier period. This one is followed by a number of petitions, and Luther's embolism of the Lord's Prayer, and concludes with a transition into the Words of Institution. In this way the Exhortation seems to hint at an early form of the restoration of the Prayer of the Faithful, a series of collects now familiar to us from current Lutheran liturgical practice but once regularly omitted.

Following this, we find several collects more suited to use in personal prayers, including some founded on the Evangelical Canticles that find their regular place in Matins/Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. There is a clue, however, that they were used in public services or group settings: the responsive versicle before each Collect. I include these below in my own translation. Note: a final Collect appointed for the Te Deum has no versicle, and is excluded here because it is the Collect of Thanksgiving already familiar to us in the English (O Lord God, heavenly Father, from whom without ceasing we receive. . . ).


V. Thou, O child, shalt be called a prophet of the Most High.
R. Thou shalt go before the Lord to prepare His way.

Almighty God, heavenly Father, as Thou didst bring Thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, into the world that we, being delivered by Him from all enemies, might serve Thee in all holiness and righteousness : grant us that, taking hold of this with true faith and being delivered from all the power of the devil, we may attain to the true holiness and righteousness that avails before Thee; through the same Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.


V. Blessed art thou who hast believed.
R. For that will be fulfilled which is told thee from the Lord.

Almighty God, who, when the Virgin Mary's believed Thy Word, didst do to her great things, making her the mother of Thy beloved Son, our Lord, by whom we all are made partakers of Thy divine nature, and in so doing Thou didst gloriously show forth Thy merciful adoption of the poor, the worthless, and the despised : grant that we also may with true faith be devoted to Thy Word in all humility and meekness, and so become true partakers of Thy Son, and His mothers, sisters, and brethren, as He saith; through the same . . .

Nunc dimittis.

V. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant go in peace.
R. For mine eyes have seen Thy Savior.

Almighty, everlasting God, we heartily beseech Thee, that, even as St. Simeon received Thy beloved Son bodily in his arms, and saw and knew Him spiritually : so we may be granted both to know and to worship Him; through the same Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 (Translation © 2013 Matthew Carver. Collects may be reproduced for non-commercial use.)


  1. Matthew,

    I'm a WELS pastor interested in psalm use in the divine service.

    You note a "a very extensive collection of versified psalms set to familiar, largely Lutheran, melodies."

    Could you give details? For instance: Which psalms were versified? Thanks for any help you can provide.

    1. Hi, thanks for your question. Psalm use varied in the Lutheran churches throughout the Reformation and Orthodoxy periods, but Latin psalms continued to be sung to the old Gregorian tones in larger cities where Latin schools were maintained. Congregational singing of German psalms to simplified tones was found in some places, while psalm paraphrases after Luther's example (from both early Reformed and Lutheran authors) grew in popularity and number. These tended toward the slavish literal sense rather than dynamic interpretation of Luther. In later Orthodoxy there were attempts by Lutherans to oust the pietestic but popular Lobwasser psalter, though none of these seems to have gained the upper hand.

      The versified psalms in the Bonn Gesangbüchlein were a mixture of both well-known and less familiar psalms (and some newly composed) from this mixed background, as Lutherans had sung them for quite a while already. A brief glance at the "Register" shows us the psalms that were included, referred to both by Latin incipits as well as German first lines. They seem to be numbered according to the Vulgate, but if so, there are some errors in numbering. It would take a while to sort all this out. However, one can estimate about 180 psalm paraphrases (obviously some psalms have two or more versions). For instance, Laudate dominum quoniam . . . has 3 different renderings. Included in this list also seem to be a few hymns based on the canticles and Te Deum, etc.

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